A son of Ghanaian immigrants who was educated at Eton, Britain's most exclusive private school, parliamentary candidate Kwasi Kwarteng embodies both change and continuity in the Conservative Party.

An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, who as prime minister in the 1980s transformed Britain through free-market reforms, Kwarteng espouses the long-standing Conservative ideals of low taxes, a small state, strong defense and robust law and order.

At 34, he is also typical of a new generation who are far more comfortable than older Conservatives were about things like gender equality, gay rights and a multi-ethnic society.

People from whatever background must feel they can have a home in the Conservative Party, he told Reuters in an interview at the party's office in the London suburb of Staines, speaking in the clipped accent of the British upper classes.

As candidate for Spelthorne, a commuter area south-west of London including Staines, he is one of what is expected to be the largest new intake of Conservative members of parliament (MPs) since 1931 if the party wins an election expected on May 6.

The turnover will be particularly high this election because many current MPs are stepping down following a scandal over dubious expense claims that tainted both major parties.

David Cameron, the youthful Conservative leader who will become prime minister if his party wins, has tried since he took over in 2005 to bring in more women and people from ethnic minorities in an effort to broaden the party's appeal.


Grass-roots activists in some areas have resisted efforts to install candidates proposed by Cameron's team. Weakening support in recent polls has also prompted calls for a return to a more traditional focus on tackling crime and curbing immigration.

But Kwarteng, one of a handful of black candidates, is an example of the new-look Conservatives gradually emerging.

For him, the focus is on the economy. The top priority for the next government should be to reduce the public deficit, he said, followed by moves such as cutting taxes and bureaucracy for businesses and bringing down welfare bills.

Asked about the issue of diversity in his party, he described the low number of women and people from minorities among Conservative MPs as a grotesque imbalance and praised Cameron for tackling the issue head-on.

But he did not wish to be pigeon-holed as a champion of ethnic minorities and made clear that was not his main cause.

He said the local party activists in Spelthorne who selected him as candidate over five others may have wanted something slightly different, but that was only part of the story.

The whole ethnic thing, I don't think it was really a big issue. In a way it helped me that I was very visible, memorable, he said, attributing his success mainly to the fact that his presentation had made the activists laugh.

It is not hard to see why Kwarteng was selected. A confident orator, he has a masters from Harvard and a doctorate from Cambridge, eight years' experience in financial services in the City of London, and a history book soon to be published.

In fact, Kwarteng's stellar CV reveals that the change he represents is limited. He may stand out somewhat in a party that has had only three non-white MPs since World War Two, but his educational and professional background is much less unusual.

One of the accusations frequently leveled at the Conservative Party is that it is a bastion of privilege. Critics cite the fact that 60 percent of Conservative MPs were privately educated, compared with 18 percent of Labor MPs. In the population as a whole, the proportion is less than 10 percent.


The name of Eton, a 600-years-old all-boys school which has produced 18 British prime ministers and where pupils wear tailcoats to class, is a particularly loaded one.

Gordon Brown, the Labor prime minister, has sought to use the fact that Cameron went to Eton to score a political point. He said last year Cameron's tax policy was dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton and would favor only the rich.

Kwarteng dismissed such talk, saying British voters had moved beyond the class war, and joked that in his case, any charge of elitism would easily have been debunked because his parents were immigrants and he had won a scholarship to Eton.

If I were the younger son of the Earl of Dunluce or something, then it might have been a problem, but it's obvious I'm not from a privileged background, he said.

Kwarteng said that in a place like Staines, his personal story might actually resonate with residents' ambitions.

We're in an aspirational part of the world. People work hard, they want to send their children to good schools. They respect British institutions and Eton is a British institution.

Previously little known to the wider world, Staines gained fame as the home of Ali G, a character created by the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. A youth from a quiet suburb, Ali G adopted black gangsta rap culture as his own, to great comic effect.

Kwarteng said he had read on a blog that while Staines used to be famous for a guy who pretended to be black, now it would be famous for having a real black guy as a Conservative MP.

I thought that was very funny, he said, bursting out laughing as he told the story.